[Possible Trigger Warning-- I'll be discussing relationships with food, very cursorily and probably superficially.]
It was Staff Appreciation Week at my office last week, and I can’t lie: I generally feel super-appreciated each year. Last year they hosted a cupcake-decorating class (still the best frosting job I’ve ever managed); this year they kicked things off with an in-office visit from Coldstone Creamery. Sugar and Circuses, that’s the Firm’s motto.
Did I deliberately eat a small but healthy lunch, the better to save room for afternoon deliciousness? Did I zoom downstairs to the conference room as soon as I got an email with “ice cream” in the subject line? Did I ask for a cup with pretty much everything in it, even though the flavors did not, how should we say, “go together”? Did I savor every over-the-top, sweet, delicious, ridiculous bite? DUH.
DID PRACTICALLY EVERY SINGLE OTHER STAFF MEMBER TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE FREE ICE CREAM TO BITCH ABOUT CALORIES, SUGAR, FAT, AND DAIRY? Of course they effing did.
Ohhh, I got mad. In two minutes I decided that all of my co-workers were Food Police Minions of Awful. Did they not realize that situations like this, of fun treats laden with guilt and judgment, led to terrible, horrible, no-good very bad messed up feelings about food and our bodies? I was so angry, standing there, eating my ice cream, not saying anything in response to the “I’m trying to be good” and “Sugar is really just poison” and “I’m so fat, I’ll have to go the gym for longer” and “If only they’d had sorbet” flying around me. I was all set to yell and scream about people who were so self-centered they decided to show up to something very clearly called an Ice Cream Social in order to sing their own praises while simultaneously making themselves and everyone else around them feel bad about their life choices. Man, I was gonna show it to them. I was gonna BLOG THEM A NEW ONE.
And then, while I was merrily criticizing the Most Annoying Co-Worker (the most martyred martyr of them all, she who told us how bad the ice cream we were enjoying was and how she was trying to be “a good girl” and who plaintively whined “is there sorbet?”), I realized A) I was being an insensitive asshole, and B) judgment goes both ways. I wanted to scream “Will y’all just shut up and eat the freaking ice cream and chill out already?” It’s just not that simple.
Look, I understand food preferences and aversions very, very well. I am deeply sympathetic to people who have food allergies. If I was allergic to chocolate or dairy I would be the saddest, mopiest person ever, yet somehow there are people who carry on bravely, without Friend Ice Cream by their side. I also absolutely salute the Most Annoying Co-Worker for making her own choices and for wanting to take care of her body. I totally think, despite my username and raison d’être, that I could do with a little less sugar in my diet. I make a point of trying to include leafy vegetables, fruit, and protein in my meals. Healthy choices get a huge seal of approval from me. I CANNOT sign off, however, on her 1) phrasing food choices in terms of “I’m good” or “I’m bad” and 2) attending an event called an “Ice Cream Social,” only to shame anyone (read: everyone) else who indulged. I may not have liked it, but I needed to step back and acknowledge whence cometh the Crazy.
It’s not really news that our relationship with food is messed up. I get that we’re bombarded with confounding, conflicting messages every day about industrial farming, healthy fat, cholesterol, wheat bellies, poisonous sugar, 10 quick tips to a flatter belly, juice cleanses, eating everything in moderation, cutting out processed foods, dark chocolate’s being good for us, eating seasonally, paleo/gluten-free/dairy-free diets, ice cream will help you over that breakup, wine is good, wine is bad, our blood type can determine our diet! etc., etc. etc. Is it really any wonder if we feel overwhelmed, or discouraged, or frustrated, and that sometimes we don’t react well to, you know, food? Of course it isn’t. It can be hard to sort out the sound advice from the silly advice, and ultimately, much like bras and bra fitting, the best solution is going to vary wildly from individual to individual. So when faced with a big empty cup and two strapping gentlemen waiting to fill it with ice cream and cookies, our first reactions are often panic, instead of delight.
Sure, Coldstone Creamery’s offerings aren’t healthy. We all know this. But do we eat ginormous helpings of ice cream crammed full of cookies and candy every day of the week? We do not. I think the last time I had Coldstone was . . . last year, during Staff Appreciation Week. So yeah, I knew exactly what I was eating. And I just ate it. It was delicious, it was a once-in-a-blue-moon treat, and I refuse to feel badly about it. You guys, don’t apologize for showing up to an event you were invited to. Don’t feel the need to tell us how many extra crunches you’re going to do tonight. It’s really okay. You weren’t invited here as some sort of sting operation to catch you in the Act of Eating Sugar. You were invited here as a thank you. It’s just a treat You can eat it. You can abstain. It’s your choice, it’s really not a big deal, and if someone makes it a big deal, that’s literally their problem, not yours.
I’m not sure when and why other people’s food choices became acceptable social conversation. It’s like how it’s acceptable to discuss, in terms of virtue, the size of pregnant women’s bellies (ugh, come on, it’s NEVER acceptable). Just as I know that other people have dangerous food allergies, or choose for a variety of reasons to abstain from consuming animal products, so too do I know that other people choose to abstain from certain foods for a variety of health or other personal reasons. While my gut reaction last week was to scream “just eat the freaking ice cream!”, this week I’m feeling a little calmer and, I hope, a little more understanding. So I’ll say this:
Eat what you want. If someone questions you, either for indulging or for abstaining, just say “it’s delicious!” OR “eh, I don’t really want any.” If someone says “ooooh, you’re so good,” “tsk, tsk, you’ll have to work hard to burn that off,” “aw, come on, you don’t need to lose weight,” “oh stop it, just eat it!”, “don’t you WANT some,” etc., just demur. Say “okay” if they praise you and “no thank you” if they press you. If they continue to comment, just say “if you don’t mind, I’d rather change the subject.” Then change the subject. Having conflicting feelings about certain foods is natural in this day and age, but someone who continues to comment on and analyze your choices is straight up rude and insensitive. You do you.
But seriously, if you tell me how many calories there are in anything I’m eating, our friendship is dead.